Japanese Title: Gungrave
Related: Gungrave (video game basis)
Gankutsuou: The Count of Monte Cristo
Phantom: Requiem for the Phantom
Watched in: Japanese & English
Genre: Mafia Drama Action Science Fiction
Length: 26 episodes
- Deep characters and development.
- Stylish, fast-paced action.
- Brutal drama.
- Top tier acting for the well-characterised dialogue.
- Less is more.
- The action focused final third could not live up to the preceding drama.
Before I begin the review, you must know of the two ways to watch Gungrave, depending on what type of story you prefer. If you start at episode one, you will witness a flash-forward before the plot rewinds to the beginning. Or, you can begin at episode two and have no idea of what is yet to come. With the first method, you will be wondering how things went so wrong; with the second method, you won’t know what goes wrong. It is up to your preference. Both are equally great, though I will write this review on the assumption that you skip episode one to avoid spoiling for method two. (All trailers spoil too much, so I settled for the opening above.)
After the murder of their friends by a rival gang, street punks Brandon and Harry join the largest crime syndicate, Millennion. Brandon seeks to get closer to Maria, the Godfather’s ward, while Harry wishes to make something of himself. Brandon is quiet, disciplined – the muscle – and loyal to a fault. He barely talks, but he projects tons of character in his manner, in the tone of his expression. Harry, on the other hand, is a leader, too charismatic for his own good, a smooth talker of great ambition and intellect.
Gungrave is the story of how these two friends climb the mafia ranks, putting character, morals, and love on the line. Gungrave’s roots in gangster films are obvious – the notion of ‘loyalty to the family’ is a recurring theme throughout. It is a blend of Scarface and The Godfather with a touch of science fiction (only anime would take such down-to-earth films and add the fantastical).
Brandon and Harry, supported by a larger cast, are the heart of Gungrave. Their character arcs are something to be studied at length for how well and believably the characters evolve by the end. It’s rare to see a story that doesn’t treat friendship as an all-binding law. I enjoy a ‘power of friendship’ story as much as the next viewer, but it’s always a pleasure to see a story that questions if friendship really is all-powerful. And Gungrave manages to convey all of this without resorting to long conversations. Most stories can only manage such depth by sitting the characters down for long dialogues to explain their motives, which is rather dull, even if insightful. Brandon’s restriction as a silent character forced the writers to express thought without word – that look in his eye, that moment’s hesitation. Gungrave conveys development through actions, choices and consequences, never resorting to extended conversations where characters tell us where they stand.
Despite the serious gangster story and unfettered violence, there are moments of well-timed humour to give the audience time to breathe. If you have seen the famous gangster films, you will know that despite the many guns, action occupies only a small amount of screen time. Guns in mafia films aren’t about delivering action, but as tools to convey character emotions. Gungrave is no different. The syndicate isn’t about killing. It’s about control and family, understating how humans work and what makes them comfortable, makes them unwilling to defy you, or better yet, work for you.
The action, when present, is excellent and doesn’t drag for episodes on end. That said, when the action does dominate the final third (also like most gangster films), it isn’t as good as preceding episodes. An unfortunate side effect of having such powerful drama come first – a real first-world [story] problem.
Gungrave still keeps me glued to the screen after several viewings for its subtlety in character and is my favourite anime. Can you believe this is based on a video game? It’s amazing that a simple action game spawned such an excellent series. If only movies could manage such adaptation quality.
Art – High
Gungrave looks great for a pre-HD anime with a Trigun and Cowboy Bebop-esque art style. The action looks fantastic and cinematography works overtime to amplify characters’ emotion.
Sound – Very High
The cast couldn’t be better for Gungrave’s Japanese track. Even with the European-dominated naming (some Engrish), I recommend sticking with Japanese. Tomokazu Seki, once again, delivers the perfect quiet character. The music consists mostly of slow jazz and solo violin. I like the lyric-less OP.
Story – Very High
A mafia story of power, greed, family and loyalty. Characters and development of excellent depth.
Overall Quality – Very High
Recommendation: A must watch. Gungrave is an exemplar is subtle characterisation and uncensored human nature. Remember to start at episode one or two depending on your preferred story type.
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17 thoughts on “Gungrave – Anime Review”
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This is your favourite anime? Better than the likes of Monster, Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood, Steins;Gate and Gankutsuou? If so, that’s a darn bold assertion!
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What can I say? Favourites tend to follow the heart. Of course, I don’t assert that it’s the best – I would say the four you listed are all better anime, in fact. And, currently, I would put Gankutsuou and Code Geass above that.
My favourite tends to change on mood from time to time, but Gungrave has been my favourite for the most amount of time, so overall I put that one.
Furthermore, I don’t put anything at number one that I have only seen for the first time within the past two years or so – it takes time to test and cement itself at the top. So, Brotherhood and Steins are too recent. Quite often, I love something on first viewing, certain it’s a favourite, but six months later don’t feel like watching it ever again. This happened with Hellsing: Ultimate. I stand by my review and assessment of the series, yet I don’t imagine watching it again without reason.
Perhaps I am overthinking all of this!
Really though, I think in terms more of a group of favourites that rotate. Off the top of my head, they would currently be the four you listed, Gungrave, Code Geass, Rose of Versailles, RahXephon, Grave of the Fireflies, and Full Metal Panic. There is too much to decide! Why is picking favourites such a high pressure task?
What are your favourites? And which currently sits at the top, if any?
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I have my top 9 anime series ever pretty fixed, so I’m just looking for that final show to round off my all-time top 10 anime series.
There are some series I love but not enough to comfortably say that one of them deserves that 10th spot, such as Mushishi (both seasons), Cowboy Bebop, Gankutsuou (since I read the book first, I couldn’t help but compare the two and was left a little disappointed with the anime, which is a bit unfair since it’s the flipping Count of Monte Cristo, one of the best books ever written) Planetes and Ping Pong the Animation.
There were also some series that I expected to like a lot more than I actually did once I got round to viewing them, like Kaiba and Texhnolyze.
My top 9, in no particular order (I’ll rank them once I have a title I feel deserves to take that 10th spot):
– Monster (my all-time favourite, and I highly doubt anything will ever top it for me)
– Legend of the Galactic Heroes
– Rurouni Kenshin: Tsuiokuhen
– Fullmetal Alchemist: Brotherhood
– Hunter x Hunter (2011)
– Akage no Anne
– Kemono no Souja Erin
– Welcome to the NHK!
Right now I have my eye on 5 series in particular: Gungrave, RahXephon, Honey & Clover, Ergo Proxy – hopefully among them I’ll find the series I’m looking for! 🙂
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Forgot to add Last Exile as one of those 5 series I’m looking forward to watching!
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That’s a good list.
I’ve been wanting to watch Hunter x for years now, but the length makes it difficult to start. I look at my list, see it, but then calculate I could review 6 other series in that time! I have started a system of slow watching longer series while I review the shorter each week, so I will start Hunter after my current long view (the entire Fate franchise, game included).
Anne of Green Gables an anime? I didn’t even know they made one. I will have to check it out sometime – I have watched one of the hundred TV adaptations.
Erin is on my near-future watch list and NHK is ready to go once I clear all current reader requests. Now, as for Legend of Galactic Heroes, it isn’t time quite yet for me to talk about it…soon though.
Based on your favourites, I suggest checking out the following, if you haven’t already: Death Parade, Perfect Blue, Basilisk, Psycho-Pass (first season), Avatar the Last Airbender (not anime, of course), and Pluto (manga by same author as Monster). I have reviews for everything but Pluto up already.
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I’ve already seen and loved Death Parade, Perfect Blue and Psycho-Pass. Haven’t seen Basilisk, and I have both Pluto and 20th Century Boys to read.
I not only consider Avatar: The Last Airbender better than any anime I’ve ever seen, but it’s also my third favourite TV show of all time, just behind The Sopranos and The Wire and slightly ahead of Breaking Bad. I’ve been a huge fan of the series for over half my life (I’m 21 now) and I’ve rewatched it so many times that I’ve memorised scenes and dialogues by heart! :’)
Also, just wondering if you have Facebook and would like to add me there? 🙂
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Good to see you enjoyed them! I love them all as well.
I haven’t finished The Wire (seen first season – absolutely riveting) or The Sopranos (maybe 3 episodes in), however – I find myself having to prioritise anime for the site before TV shows. Now those are piling up.
I do have a Facebook page, which you can find at the bottom of this site, but I don’t really use it. I think it just auto-posts when a new review comes out. You are much more likely to get a reply from me with a comment on this site, or you can send me an email by clicking the ‘Request a Review & Feedback’ button up top or in the right side bar (you don’t have to make a request, of course). I reply to everyone’s messages within 24 hours, circumstances permitting. I am always pleased to talk with other anime fans, so don’t hesitate!